I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I was involved in a pretty serious auto accident a long time ago. My recovery took years. Fortunately, I worked for an employer that was open to modified duty. It sounds like this employer is as well.
Any thoughts about using off-site, non-profits or charities to accommodate modified duty for an injured worker? We’re located in California and just can’t find any in-house options for truck driver’s with injured legs. Your help would be appreciated.
In this specific example, we don’t know if the injury happened on- or off-the-job. But there are some common elements to modified duty programs. So I asked Margaret Spence, president and CEO of C. Douglas & Associates, Inc. a national workers’ compensation and human resources consulting company. She’s the author of two books: “From Workers Comp Claimant to Valued Employee” and “The Injury Management Challenge.”
I’ve had the opportunity to work with Margaret while serving on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) special expertise panels and I’m grateful that she dropped everything to share her knowledge with us. Please remember that her comments should not be construed as legal advice or professional consulting. If you have detailed questions, you should address them directly with your labor attorney or professional services consultant.
First, let’s define what modified duty means? And is it exclusive to worker’s compensation situations?
[Spence] A return-to-work program is designed to facilitate the return of an injured employee to work as soon as he or she is able to perform meaningful, productive work within the restrictions imposed by the treating physician.
‘Modified Duty’ refers to changing or removing some tasks from the employee’s normal duties so they can continue working in the regular work area.
‘Alternate Position’ or ‘Alternative Duty’ refers to a temporary position that can be used to accommodate most injuries within your work environment.
Over the years, the workers’ compensation system has given the return-to-work process many names: modified duty, light duty, limited duty, alternative duty, restricted duty, stay at work program, transitional duty or transitional work. These terms all mean the same thing—returning an injured employee to a meaningful job until they are able to return to their regular position. These positions are generally of short duration and should be a temporary option.
The term modified duty is generally exclusive to workers’ compensation but can also be used when accommodating an employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.)
Why should organizations have modified duty assignments and programs?
[Spence] When an employee remains off work after an accident the employers cost of doing business rises. Unfortunately, employers are not in a win-win situation when it comes to workplace injuries. If you leave the employee at home, the insurance carrier pays them to be there. This, in turn, affects the amount of money your company pays for workers’ compensation premiums. If you refuse to bring the employee back to work, you may be in violation of the ADA. If you bring the employee back to work in a nonproductive light-duty position that has them counting paperclips, you are paying state and federal taxes as well as benefits for an employee who is not contributing anything to your bottom line.
The National Safety Council estimates that there are more than 80,000,000 lost work days due to occupational injuries or illness. This is a billion-dollar problem for the American workforce. Annually employers spend about $62 Billion on workers’ compensation costs – that is over $1 Billion dollars each week. Implementing a proactive return to work program is essential for retention, employee morale and to show that we care about employees after they’ve had an injury.
If an organization is struggling to create a modified duty assignment, are there resources that can help them?
[Spence] The best resource available is always the employer’s insurance carrier – their information will be tailored to the specific claim, the work environment as well as the legal climate in that state. I’ve written two books specifically on return-to-work strategies and I am working on a third specifically focused on managing workers comp from the human resource managers desk.
The best resource for accommodation assistance is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), but that service is there to help you when you cannot find assistance from your insurance carrier or workers compensation adjuster. They specifically work with employers to find accommodations to meet the ADA guidelines. JAN says that most permanent accommodations cost less than $500.
I’ve never heard of an organization using a charity or non-profit for modified duty. But I have heard of organizations doing “loaned executive” type programs for fundraising. In your experience, have you heard of something like this?
[Spence] This service is used very often by trucking operations and organizations that cannot modify the job to accommodate the injured employee. Basically, the organization would reach out to a local charity and ask them if they had sit down work available for their injured employees. The employee would be assigned to the charity for the same work hours as they would work with their primary employer. Their salary is paid either by the employer or the insurance carrier. There is a great organization called Re-Employability that does an excellent job of placing employees at alternate job sites.
Last question, this reader mentions that they are in California. I know that worker’s compensation laws are regulated by each state. Where can organizations go to learn about the worker’s compensation laws in their state?
[Spence] One of the best resources in California is WorkCompCentral.com. California Workers Compensation is very unique and, unlike most states, things that are covered there aren’t covered anywhere else. It is imperative that your readers utilize their insurance carriers to assist them with workers’ compensation issues. The State of California puts on a fabulous conference every year that addresses the changing legal landscape.
Each state offers annual workers compensation conferences and many law firms also offer courses for employers. Three of the best conferences to learn about workers’ compensation specific issues is the Workers’ Compensation Institutes National Conference which is held in Florida every year. Another one is the National Workers Comp Conference held annually in Las Vegas or New Orleans. For large employers who may have ADA/FMLA compliance issues, the Disability Management Employers Coalition (DMEC) offers a hands on approach to managing workers’ compensation.
Lastly, each state also has a workers’ compensation commission/board that also offers great resources on their website. One of the key takeaways for your audience is – workers’ compensation is a shifting sand; you must stay connected to the changing laws.
A HUGE thanks to Margaret for sharing her expertise with us. If you want to learn more about modified duty programs, Margaret shared with me an article (PDF) that you can download . As you can see, we simply scratched the surface when it comes to workers’ compensation and modified duty. Organizations will want to understand their obligations and options so they can create programs that are good for the business and good for employees.
Image taken by Sharlyn Lauby1